Saturday, September 7, 2013

Breath Control for Singers

Picture courtesy of Yoga and Mudra for Health         
I'd like to discuss breath and breath control for singers today as breath flow is the foundation for good use of the voice. We don't have direct control over the diaphragm, the major muscle of inhalation, but relaxation of the abdominal muscles enables it to naturally do it's job. When the abdomnal muscles relax the breath feels low and the body expands as you inhale.

For this reason when students come to my vocal studio the first thing we do are exercises that free up the abdominal muscle group. Often I have students do a cross-legged spinal twist as seen here. In this position the abdominals initially lock up. The student is then prompted to notice the tightness of the stomach area and let it release and soften while maintaining this position.  Once a student is able to master this abdominal relaxation we practice slow panting to feel free movement and buoyancy in this area. When the abs release in this way the inhale begins to feel like an inflatable "donut" cushion around the core abdominal area. This is how the "low" breath of singing is achieved.

The next challenge is to hiss slowly on a sustained "s" sound while keeping the "donut" inflated. We often switch sides and twist the other way. These exercises are designed to relax the oblique abdominals. The next abdominal release exercise is done for the central group of abs. The student kneels and senses how the  abdominal muscles have tightened in this position. Then the student relaxes and softens that area and repeats the sequence above. Once my students have mastered the abdominal releases we do what I call a "circular breath". We relax the abs and they come out for the inhale. We hiss on an "s" sound, buzz on a "z" sound, sustain the vowel "ee" go back to a buzz and then a hiss. These sounds should last 3 seconds each and most importantly be performed with a steady breath flow on one normal sized breath. One sound needs to flow into the next with the sense that the flow of breath is connecting all these sounds. 

The purpose of keeping the abdominals out and relaxed is to hold back exessive breath pressure from the vocal cords. Our exhalers are the abdominals, but when we sustain sound as in the above exercise or in singing we want to delay the exhale and make it very gradual. For many of you this will take a bit of practice. During this exercise the abdominals should stay out, down and feel relaxed. Often the singer has problems with the body locking up by tight abs. This exercise is a good antidote for that problem.

Key Things to Remember:

  • The low breath of good singing is easily achieved by relaxing tight abdominal muscles. 
  • The twisted cross-legged position is one way of finding the tight abdominals and releasing them. There are several other positions to try for this purpose which is the material of future posts.
  • While making sustained sounds the abdominals need not tense up.
  • The low breath achieved by relaxed abdominals helps the diaphragm do it's job more efficiently.
  • Relaxed abdominals help the body to regulte a steady small breath flow.
I welcome comments from my readers. Please leave your comments/questions below. For private questions and/or lesson inquries please contact me here.

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